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2011 UCLA Football - Previewing The Linebackers

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Over the last couple of days, Bellerophon has written up previews of the Bruin offense, defense and special teams as UCLA football heads ever closer to another season. With fall practices just a week away, it is time to build off of B's work and catch up with and delve a bit more into the positional breakdowns and battles heading into practices. As B noted in his defensive preview, the current projected depth chart really does not differ from what we saw at the end of Spring practices. Here is an early look at how things can shake out. Details and figures from the 2011 UCLA Media Guide:


Glenn Love (6-4, 213, Sr*)  Patrick Larimore (6-3, 250, Jr*) Sean Westgate (5-11, 223, Sr)
Jordan Zumwalt (6-4, 236, So) Isaiah Bowens (6-3, 233, So*) Eric Kendricks (6-1, 226, Fr*)
Aramide Olaniyan (6-2, 212, Fr*)  Phillip Ruhl (6-0, 225, Fr*-Walk-on)  Ryan Hofmeister (6-0, 220, So)  
David Allen (6-2, 224, Jr*-Walk-on) Todd Golper (6-1, 230, So*) Jared Koster (6-1, 215, Fr*)
Aaron Wallace (6-3, 230, Fr)
Mike Orloff (6-2, 210, Fr)


* denotes redshirt; Italics: incoming freshmen.

Strongside (Sam) Linebacker

The story on the strong side begins with the battle to replace Akeem Ayers - a classic case of youth vs. experience. At the break of fall, experience has the early advantage, with Glenn Love leading off the depth chart after successfully transitioning from Safety to Linebacker last fall. Jordan Zumwalt created a lot of fans last fall with his aggressive and enthusiastic play off the bench. While he looks like a star in the making for the Bruins, he lost his spot atop the depth chart during the Spring to Love; seemingly as much due to his level of execution during the Spring than to Glenn's play and effort in practices. Jordan could slot into the middle just as easily as here, but with Larimore starting, and Bowens coming off of a strong Spring effort, the strong-side looks to be his road to the Rose Bowl turf this fall.

While looking in on the prime battle on the outside, Aramide Olaniyan is in position to earn playing time on the outside this fall. Keeping in mind that he was one of the nations top defensive recruits a year ago and one of the cornerstones of the 2010 recruiting class, he was a non-injury redshirt last fall. Aaron Wallace was one of this year's early-enrolee freshmen, allowing him to have participated in Spring practice and other workouts through the past few months. For this season, at least he is seen as a depth filler on the outside per the media guide and depth chart; he could work his way into special teams activity, but I would not be surprised at all to see a redshirt in Aaron's near future - his placement behind walk-on/transfer (Tulane) David Allen on the depth chart would seem to confirm the sentiment.

Middle (Mike) Linebacker

With Akeem gone to the NFL, Patrick Larimore is the big name of this unit and the one guy comfortably holding a starting spot - as much as can be said for a defense with a new leader coming off of a 4-8 season. That's a lot to say and to put on the shoulders of a player with 7 starts in his UCLA career - and coming off an injury which kept him out of action this spring, but his talent is unmistakable and has led to preseason expectations that he will shape into one of the Pac-12's leading linebackers. Isaiah Bowens took full advantage of the opening afforded by Patrick's absence from the practices and made an impression on observers throughout the spring with his athleticism.

After sitting out the 2009 season as a non-injury freshman redshirt, and then missing 2010 due to injury, Todd Golper is healthy and ready for some action. While he has yet to suit up for the Bruins, Todd was one of the leading linebacker recruits in the nation coming out of Arcadia HS back in 2009. While seemingly ready to contribute, he will likely be earning his keep in special teams if he hopes to see much of the field this fall, as barring injury Larimore and Bowens look to have the lead spots in the middle of the defense. As I wrote during the spring, Philip Ruhl's role on the team is mainly to provide depth and participate with the scout team.

Weakside (Will) Linebacker

Like the situation on the strong side, we see the veteran and a young upstart bidding for the starting spot, though both players should see significant playing time. Sean Westgate enters his senior year atop the depth chart for the second straight year. Coming off of a solid spring practice, Eric Kendricks finds himself on the two-deep in the Will-LB slot. While the senior - Westgate - has the inside edge at the position, the more aggressive defensive style of Joe Tresey should lead to more playing time for Eric and the other backup 'backers. Sean's experience and may help him a bit working for the lead spot in Tresey's defense, but if Eric continues to practice (and play) the way he did this spring, he could jump into the starting role before too long. Either way, expect to see both players get significant time at the position.

As we touched upon during signing day and on our spring practice coverage, Ryan Hofmeister came to Westwood by way of Riverside CC, unusually as a JC transfer with only one year of eligibility used up. Per the media guide, his freshman season at Riverside led to him being ranked one of the nations top-100 JC players per SuperPrep. Ryan should see time on the field this fall, though he is certainly in a class behind Kendricks and Westgate at the moment. Jared Koster finds himself pretty far back on the chart, with the "...expected to provide depth" designation in the media guide for good measure. He might not be in line for significant playing time at linebacker, but could figure in more significantly in the special teams, where he played early last season before a shoulder injury led to a redshirt season. Mike Orloff rounds off the Bruin linebackers, having enrolled earlier this summer with his normally-graduating freshmen-to-be peers. Like his counterpart on the strong side, Aaron Wallace, expect Mike to redshirt this season, hitting the weight room and working with the scout team before having the chance to break through next fall.